World’s Largest Bowling Pin
The prime target in any bowling alley lane is the 1 (or head) pin. A straight smack to the head pin generally sends the remaining pins screaming to the back of the lane in a satisfying cataclysm of battered wood. That head pin stands at attention, smirking, laughing and taunting you to take your best shot, an evil little bottle-shaped chunk of maple that makes you not only want to knock it down, but to kill it outright. Now picture that pin 30 feet tall, poised to knock you down. That’s what you’ll come face-to-face with when you ascend the escalator at Channelside Bay Plaza, an open-air plaza mall just steps between the TECO Line Streetcar and the cruise ship terminal at Tampa Harbor. The pin itself is taller than the bowling alley it appears to have escaped from (Splitsville Lanes), and although it doesn’t seem formidable looking down into the courtyard at it, the pin dwarfs even the tallest bowler. As impressive as this superlative sporting good sculpture is, you can’t help looking around for a Indiana Jones-style bowling ball to come rolling down the escalator. The pin has stood outside the front entrance to Splitsville since their opening in Tampa in 2004, and it has become a photo opportunity, a tourist attraction and a holy grail for ‘world’s largest” object hunters.
When you visit the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, you have the opportunity to interact with the behemoth by winding twine around it; at Splitsville Lanes, once you’ve lingered in front of the pin for awhile, there’s only one obvious thing left to do – go bowling. The inside is clean as a whistle with a throwback, retro 1950s look. As you walk in, a look to the left reveals a very fully stocked bar and restaurant with tables and booths accented with ridiculously high-backed leather benches. The area to the right of the drinking and dining area features ceiling-high bowling pin columns that look like offspring of Big Daddy standing watch out front. At the very back, custom bowling balls sit in cubby holes behind Plexiglas next to a giant multi-colored high-heel pump sculpture that seems out of place in a bowling alley (perhaps a bowling shoe would have made a better subject); the lanes themselves are cordoned off into three sections of four lanes each. As retro as the place is, you won’t find yourself placing an “X” on a newsprint grid with little yellow pencils – the scorekeeping is modernized so that to can view your score automatically on the monitor at your lane or watch in horror as it is displayed on the large monitor above. After each ball, the monitor sizes up what you have left to hit and gives you degrees of difficulty and tips (although I think it gave up on me very early on). The lane area features a tall, plush curved bench with a round table in the middle – a waitperson will bring menus and deliver food and drink right to where you’re sitting; you can imagine how helpful it is to have food grease all over your hands while you’re hurling a 16-pound spherical resin projectile through the air.
No detail is overlooked – daughter Alie arrived sans socks, but we were able to conveniently purchase a pair of white cotton peds at the shoe rental counter. As neither of us are frequent bowlers, we played with the house’s balls, although it took us half a string to find the right weight and fit. If you haven’t suffered enough humiliation and choose to bowl another game, you simply let them know at the front desk (otherwise the system conveniently shuts itself down). You can end up having so much fun bowling, drinking and dining that you’ll forget that the reason you showed up in the first place was to see the kingpin outside. Whether you’re a Jeffrey Lebowski, Split Carson, Roy Munson, or a “50” bowler like me, it’s damned near impossible to hit Splitsville Lanes and not have a good time – just leave the Pomeranian at home.